Acre Prison break

The Acre Prison break was an operation undertaken by the Irgun on May 4, 1947, in the British Mandate of Palestine, in which its men broke through the walls of Acre prison and freed 27 incarcerated Irgun and Lehi members.

Acre Prison
Acre Prison


At the time of the British Mandate the citadel in the old city of Acre was used as a prison. In total, the prison contained 700 Arab prisoners and 90 Jewish prisoners, the latter mainly members of the Jewish underground groups Haganah, Lehi, and Irgun, who had been captured by the British. One of those prisoners was Eitan Livni (father of Tzipi Livni), the Irgun operations officer.[1]

On April 19, 1947, four Irgun members, Dov Gruner, Yehiel Dresner, Mordechai Alkahi, and Eliezer Kashani, who had been captured by the British 6th Airborne Division, were hanged in Acre Prison to become the Irgun's first postwar 'martyrs'. At his trial, Dov Gruner declared the British Army and Administration to be 'criminal organizations'.

The Lehi and Irgun prisoners considered an escape but concluded that would be impossible without outside assistance. They therefore contacted Irgun headquarters with a plan. Dov Cohen, AKA "Shimshon", a former member of the British Special Interrogation Group, was selected to lead the operation.


Irgun men in costume
Irgun men disguised as British soldiers.

The break-out was originally planned for April, but was eventually rescheduled for Sunday, May 4, 1947, at 4 p.m., the day the United Nations General Assembly convened to discuss the Palestine issue. The Irgun High Command selected 41 prisoners for escape: 30 Irgun and 11 Lehi, as that was the available number of spots available at safe houses. The Irgun High Command, and Eitan Livni, an imprisoned Irgun member, extensively planned the break and escape route.[2]The logistic preparations were complicated: The Irgun purchased a truck, a jeep, two military pickup trucks and civilian vehicles, which were then disguised as British. British Army uniforms were also acquired.[1] A stock of civilian clothing was also arranged to help the escapees blend in with the general population. Irgun reconnaissance efforts had discovered a weak spot in the citadel: the southern wall right above a Turkish bath. The Irgun had therefore smuggled TNT into the prison, which was then used to improvise 30 hand grenades and 2 bombs.

The Acre prison after the break, 1947
The prison wall after the break.

On Sunday, May 4, 1947, the Irgun fighters arrived at Acre in a convoy consisting of a military truck, two military vans painted in British camouflage colors, two civilian vans, and a command jeep in the lead. Twenty fighters were dressed in Royal Engineers uniforms, and three as Arabs. The operation commander, Dov Cohen, who was riding in the command jeep, was dressed as a decorated Royal Engineers captain. The truck pulled up to the prison's gate, while the two vans pulled into a nearby market. At 14:00 a military engineering unit of the Irgun, under the command of Dov Salomon and Yehuda Afiryon, went into action. Ladders were removed from one of the vehicles, and the men made their way to the nearby Turkish bath, disguised as Royal Engineers telephone technicians and carrying TNT, ropes and other necessary incursion equipment. They set the charges and climbed back down onto the street.[1][2]

While the Irgun units were moving into position, the prisoners were putting the plan into effect inside. At 15:00, the doors of the cells were opened for afternoon exercise. The prisoners who were not scheduled to escape went down to the courtyard to create a diversion, while the designated escapees remained in their cells.[1] At the same time, Irgun blocking squads mined nearby roads to delay any British pursuers, and a diversion party disguised as Arabs moved into position in the vicinity of a British Army camp with a mortar.[2]

At 16:22, the charges detonated, blowing a massive hole in one of the prison's walls. Upon hearing the blast, the diversion party fired mortar shells at the British Army camp, then withdrew. Meanwhile, in the prison, the first group of escapees quickly ran out of their cells towards the breach in the wall, and had to push through a crowd of Arab prisoners that had run out of their cells in panic. Using the smuggled explosive charges, they blew up two iron gates that obstructed their way to the kerosene room, where the hole in the prison wall was. The second group of escapees put up a barricade of flammable materials and set it alight to create a fire which blocked the escape route, preventing the guards from immediately reaching it. The resulting smokescreen and fire only added to the chaos that the explosions had caused. The Arab prisoners in the prison yard began shouting and running wildly, with some running directly into the barbed-wire fences, and others rushing to or breaking out of their cells in fear of the fire and explosions.

The Arab guards, assuming a prison break was underway, began shooting into the crowd. Amidst this chaos, a third group stepped into the prison yard and tossed grenades at guards positioned on the roof, causing them to flee. The explosions caused further panic and chaos among the other prisoners. Amidst the chaos, the two groups escaped through the hole in the wall. Uncertain as to what was happening, the guards did not enter the yard. Meanwhile, Arab prisoners running through the yard and corridors began to discover the hole in the wall. Over the following hour, 214 of the 394 Arab prisoners in Acre Prison escaped through the hole in the wall and disappeared into the city.[1][2]

The first group of escapees and some of the strike force boarded the first truck, which sped off and managed to exit Acre, but immediately south of the city they were ambushed by British soldiers who had been bathing at a nearby beach and were alerted by sounds of the commotion at Acre Prison. They opened fire on the truck. The driver, attempting to dodge the fire, drove the truck into a cactus clump, causing it to collapse on its left side. The men tumbled out and were immediately fired on by the British as they tried to escape. Dov Cohen and two other Irgun fighters, Nissim Levy and Zalman Lifshitz, was waiting by their jeep at a nearby command post. When the British opened fire, Cohen at first attempted to intervene and guide the other prisoners to safety. His uniform initially prevented the British from shooting at him, but in the end he, along with Levy and Lifshitz, were shot while providing covering fire for the escapees. A total of nine escapees and attackers died. Some had been taken alive but wounded, and died in jail after being refused medical treatment. Only one of the escapees from the first truck, Nissim Benado, managed to evade capture; but he was seriously wounded and died later in a Haifa hideout. The survivors were swiftly recaptured and returned to prison.[1][2]

The remaining escapees and members of the strike force quickly boarded the second and third trucks, and Salomon began calling the blocking squads away. Although they withdrew in good order, he forgot to call away one squad commanded by Avshalom Haviv. Meanwhile, one of the trucks experienced engine problems and would not start. As a result, the occupants had to push it while the driver tried to start the engine, and the truck was surrounded by an Arab mob, which began pelting it with objects. When the driver managed to start up the engine again, the pushers quickly climbed aboard and a sound grenade was tossed into the Arabs blocking its path, causing the crowd to disperse. The two trucks then linked up and drove away from Acre. As they passed Haviv's blocking squad, the men called to him that the operation was over, but Haviv, who felt he had to wait for a formal order from Salomon, chose to remain in place. As the trucks drove off a burst of fire hit one of them, killing one of the escapees inside. The mines planted by the blocking squads were successful in holding the British back, and five British soldiers were wounded by one mine. When the British arrived at Haviv's blocking position, the squad was captured.[2]

Shavei Tzion cemetery
Tombstone of fighters at Shavei Tzion cemetery

After the two trucks had escaped Acre, a British truck began following them shortly after they turned away from the sea road. The guard sitting in the passenger seat began firing at them with his pistol. A sound grenade was then tossed in the British truck's path. The resulting noise and burst of smoke caused the driver to brake sharply, allowing the convoy to lose the pursuing truck. The trucks reached kibbutz Dalia, where the fighters and escapees abandoned their vehicles and weapons. The head of the escapees, Eitan Livni, met with two Haganah men in the kibbutz, and insisted they not contact the authorities until nine. They then walked to the town of Binyamina, and hid there for the rest of the day. The following morning, they were dispersed throughout Palestine to pre-designated hiding places.[1][2] Overall, 27 Irgun and Lehi prisoners escaped, along with 214 Arab prisoners. Seven of the fighters who were killed during the operation are buried in the nearby cemetery of Shavei Tzion.[3]


Acre prison monument
A monument along the Acre promenade commemorating the break.

The New York Herald Tribune wrote that the underground had carried out "an ambitious mission, their most challenging so far, in perfect fashion", while in the House of Commons, Oliver Stanley asked what action His Majesty's Government was planning to take "in light of the events at Acre prison which had reduced British prestige to a nadir."[1]

The Jewish Agency called the break "an irresponsible suicidal act", while Irgun commander Menachem Begin hailed it as an act of heroism.

The five men from the blocking squads who had been captured, Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, Yaakov Weiss, Amnon Michaelov, and Nahman Zitterbaum, were tried in a British military court. Haviv, Weiss, and Nakar were sentenced to death.[4] Michaelov and Zitterbaum escaped the death penalty due to them being minors, and received life sentences. In response to the death sentences, the Irgun abducted two British sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice, and threatened to kill them should the British carry out the death sentences. When the British authorities did not relent and hanged the three, the Irgun killed the two sergeants and hanged their bodies from a tree in a eucalyptus grove near Netanya. This action is credited with being one of the major catalysts for the eventual British withdrawal from Palestine.[2]

The Acre Prison break, with other operations had a strong effect on the morale of the Yishuv and on the fight for the foundation of Israel. It is considered to have seriously damaged British prestige and sped up to the foundation of the UNSCOP committee.[5]

The operation is marked by a monument on the Acre promenade.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lapidot, Yehuda. "The Acre Prison Break". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Bell, Bowyer J.: Terror out of Zion (1976)
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Aisenberg, Lydia (2006-06-08). "Heroism reflected in stone". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  5. ^ UN Doc A/364 Add. 1 of 3 September 1947 See Annex 10 Letter; dated 17 June 1947 from relatives of the men sentenced to death by the Jerusalem Military Court on 16 Juno 1947

Coordinates: 32°55′25″N 35°04′10″E / 32.9237°N 35.0694°E

1947 in Mandatory Palestine

Events in the year 1947 in the British Mandate of Palestine.

Acre Prison

The Acre Prison also known as Akko Prison is a former prison and current museum in Acre, Israel.

The citadel was built during the Ottoman period over the ruins of a 12th-century Crusader fortress. The Ottomans used it at various times as a government building, prison, army barracks, and arms warehouse.In the time of the British Mandate the citadel in the old city of Acre was used as a prison in which many Arabs were imprisoned as criminals or for participating in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. Around 140 prisoners were executed during the Palestinian general strike alone.

On June 17, 1930, Fuad Hijazi, ‘Ata Al-Zeer, and Mohammad Khaleel Jamjoum who participated in the incidents of 1929 were executed (hanged) by the British Mandate for Palestine authorities.On April 19, 1947 Dov Gruner and the three men (Yechiel Dresner, Mordechai Alkahi and Eliezer Kashani) captured by the British 6th Airborne Division were hanged in Acre Prison to become the first post war ‘martyrs’ of the Irgun. Dov Gruner in a broadcast declared the British Army and Administration to be ‘criminal organizations’.

Two weeks later, 4 May, the Irgun attacked the prison in the Acre Prison break, blowing a hole in the wall through which 27 Irgun prisoners escaped. 214 Arab prisoners also escaped. Three Irgun men who took part in that attack (Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, and Yaakov Weiss) were captured during that attack and imprisoned and executed there.

The prison also contained Jewish prisoners, members of the Hagana, Lehi, and Irgun. One of those prisoners was Eitan Livni (father of Tzipi Livni), the Irgun operations officer. In total, the prison contained 700 Arab prisoners and 90 Jewish prisoners.

A room in the prison was occupied for some months by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, and members of his family, who were exiled to Ottoman Syria in 1868. The cell is now a site of pilgrimage for Bahá'is making a wider pilgrimage to the Bahá'i shrines in Haifa and Bahji, outside Akko.

Amichai Paglin

Amichai Paglin, code name "Gidi" (Hebrew: עמיחי פאגלין‬;1922–1978) was an Israeli businessman who served as Chief Operations Officer of the Irgun during the Mandate era. He planned and personally led numerous attacks against the British during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine, commanded the battle to conquer Jaffa in the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine, and participated in the Israeli War of Independence. Following independence, he ran an industrial oven factory together with his father, and was later appointed Prime Minister Menachem Begin's counter-terrorism adviser.

Avshalom Haviv

Avshalom Haviv (Hebrew: אבשלום חביב‬; June 18, 1926–July 29, 1947) was a member of the Irgun underground organization in Mandatory Palestine, and one of the Olei Hagardom executed by the British authorities during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine. His hanging, along with that of two other Irgun members, triggered the Irgun's retaliatory hangings of two British sergeants.

East Talpiot

East Talpiot or Armon HaNetziv is a Jewish neighborhood in southern East Jerusalem, established by Israel in 1973 on land captured in the Six-Day War and occupied since. The international community considers East Talpiot to be an Israeli settlement that is illegal under international law. East Talpiot is one of Jerusalem's Ring Neighborhoods.

Eitan Livni

Yeruham "Eitan" Livni (Hebrew: ירוחם "איתן" לבני‬‎; 1 April 1919 – 27 December 1991) was a Revisionist Zionist activist, Irgun commander and Israeli politician, father of Israeli politician Tzipi Livni.

Exodus (1960 film)

Exodus is a 1960 American epic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel. It was made by Alpha and Carlyle Productions and distributed by United Artists. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the film was based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. The film features an ensemble cast, and its celebrated soundtrack music was written by Ernest Gold.

Often characterized as a "Zionist epic", the film has been identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States. While Preminger's film softened the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the novel, the film remains contentious for its depiction of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Preminger openly hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been on the Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for being a communist and forced to work under assumed names. Together with Spartacus, also written by Trumbo, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry.


The Irgun (Hebrew: ארגון‬; full title: הארגון הצבאי הלאומי בארץ ישראל‬ Hā-ʾIrgun Ha-Tzvaʾī Ha-Leūmī b-Ērētz Yiśrāʾel, lit. "The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel") was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (Hebrew: הגנה‬, Defence). When the group broke from the Haganah it became known as the Haganah Bet (Hebrew: literally "Defense 'B' " or "Second Defense", הגנה ב‬), or alternatively as haHaganah haLeumit (ההגנה הלאומית) or Hama'amad (המעמד‬). Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. The Irgun is also referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל‬), an acronym of the Hebrew initials, or by the abbreviation IZL.

The Irgun policy was based on what was then called Revisionist Zionism founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. According to Howard Sachar, "The policy of the new organization was based squarely on Jabotinsky's teachings: every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state".Two of the operations for which the Irgun is best known are the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre, carried out together with Lehi on 9 April 1948.

The Irgun has been viewed as a terrorist organization or organization which carried out terrorist acts. Specifically the organization "committed acts of terrorism and assassination against the British, whom it regarded as illegal occupiers, and it was also violently anti-Arab" according to the Encyclopædia Britannica. In particular the Irgun was described as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, British, and United States governments; in media such as The New York Times newspaper; as well as by the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, the 1946 Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency. However, academics such as Bruce Hoffman and Max Abrahms have written that the Irgun went to considerable lengths to avoid harming civilians, such as issuing pre-attack warnings; according to Hoffman, Irgun leadership urged "targeting the physical manifestations of British rule while avoiding the deliberate infliction of bloodshed." Irgun's tactics appealed to many Jews who believed that any action taken in the cause of the creation of a Jewish state was justified, including terrorism.The Irgun was a political predecessor to Israel's right-wing Herut (or "Freedom") party, which led to today's Likud party. Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.

Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine

The Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine (known in the United Kingdom as the Palestine Emergency) involved paramilitary actions carried out by Jewish underground groups against the British forces and officials in Mandatory Palestine. The tensions between Jewish militant underground organizations and the British mandatory authorities rose from 1938 and intensified with the publication of the White Paper of 1939, which outlined new government policies to place further restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases and declared the intention of giving independence to Palestine, with an Arab majority, within ten years. Though World War II brought relative calm, the tensions again escalated into an armed struggle towards the end of the war, when it became clear that the Axis Powers were close to defeat. The conflict with the British lasted until the eruption of the civil war and to some degree also until the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948.

The armed conflict escalated during the final phase of the World War II, when the Irgun declared a revolt in February 1944, ending the hiatus in operations it had begun in 1940. Starting from the assassination of Lord Moyne in 1944, the Haganah actively opposed the Irgun and Lehi, in a period of inter-Jewish fighting known as The Hunting Season. However, in autumn 1945, after the end of the war the Haganah began a period of co-operation with the two other underground organizations, forming the Jewish Resistance Movement. The Haganah refrained from direct confrontation with British forces, and concentrated its efforts on attacking British immigration control, while Irgun and Lehi attacked military and police targets. The Resistance Movement dissolved in recriminations in July 1946 following the King David Hotel bombing, with Irgun and Lehi acting independently, while the main underground militia Haganah acted mainly in supporting Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine. After the UN partition plan resolution was passed on 29 November 1947, the civil war between Palestinian Jews and Arabs eclipsed the previous tensions of both with the British.

Within Britain there were deep divisions over Palestine policy. Dozens of British soldiers, Jewish militants and civilians died during the campaigns of insurgency. The conflict led to heightened antisemitism in the UK and, in August 1947, after the hanging of two abducted British sergeants, to widespread anti-Jewish rioting across the UK. The conflict caused tensions in Britain's relationship with the United States.

List of Irgun members

This is a list of notable members of the Irgun, either having been listed by the Irgun's website or by reputable independent sources.

Former Irgun members have held positions of highest influence in the Israeli political and security establishments since independence, and the lasting effect of the ideology espoused by groups such as the Irgun and the Lehi continues to be a source of active research and debate among responsible historians and political observers to this day.

Meir Nakar

Meir Nakar (Hebrew: מאיר נקר‬; 1926–1947) was an Irgun member in pre-state Mandatory Palestine and one of 12 Olei Hagardom.

Olei Hagardom

Olei Hagardom (Hebrew: "Those hanged in the gallows", עולי הגרדום) refers to members of the two Jewish Revisionist pre-state underground organisations Irgun and Lehi, who were tried in British Mandate courts and sentenced to death by hanging, most of them in Acre prison. There were 12 Olei Hagardom.The term does not include members of the Nili organisation hanged by the Ottoman government during World War I.

Operation Hametz

Operation Hametz (Hebrew: מבצע חמץ‎, Mivtza Hametz) was a Jewish operation towards the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, as part of the 1948 Palestine war. It was launched at the end of April 1948 with the objective of capturing villages inland from Jaffa and establishing a blockade around the town. The operation, which led to the first direct battle between the British and the Irgun, was seen as a great victory for the latter, and enabled the Irgun to take credit for the complete conquest of Jaffa that happened on May 13.

Shavei Tzion

This article is about the moshav. For the Jewish return to the Land of Israel, see The Return to Zion.Shavei Tzion (Hebrew: שָׁבֵי צִיּוֹן‬, lit. Returnees to Zion) is a moshav shitufi in northern Israel. Located between Acre and Nahariya and covering 2,000 dunams, it falls under the jurisdiction of Mateh Asher Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 1,083.

Special Interrogation Group

The Special Interrogation Group (SIG) (some sources interpret this acronym as Special Identification Group or Special Intelligence Group) was a unit of the British Army during World War II. It was organized from German-speaking Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine. The SIG performed commando and sabotage operations against Axis forces during the Western Desert Campaign.

The Sergeants affair

The Sergeants affair (Hebrew: פרשת הסרג'נטים‎) was an incident that took place in Mandate Palestine in July 1947 during Jewish insurgency in Palestine, in which the Jewish underground group Irgun kidnapped two British Army Intelligence Corps NCOs, Sergeant Clifford Martin and Sergeant Mervyn Paice and threatened to hang them if the death sentences passed on three Irgun militants: Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, and Yaakov Weiss, were carried out. The three had been captured by the British during the Acre Prison break, tried, and convicted on charges of illegal possession of arms, and with 'intent to kill or cause other harm to a large number of people'. When the three men were executed by hanging, the Irgun killed the two sergeants and hanged their booby-trapped bodies in a eucalyptus grove near Netanya. When the bodies were found, the booby trap injured a British officer as they were cut down. This act was widely condemned in both Palestine and the UK. After hearing of the deaths some British troops and policemen attacked Jews in Tel Aviv, killing five and injuring others. The killings also sparked off rioting in some British cities.

Yaakov Weiss

Yaakov Weiss (Hebrew: יעקב וייס‬; 1924–1947) was a Hungarian Jew born in Czechoslovakia and member of the Irgun Jewish guerrilla organization in Mandatory Palestine. After saving hundreds of Jews during Holocaust, he illegally immigrated to Palestine, joined the Irgun, and fought the British during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine. He was one of three Irgun members executed for their part in the Acre Prison break, which triggered the Irgun's retaliatory hanging of two British soldiers. He is memorialized today as one of 12 Olei Hagardom.

Yonatan Uziel

Yonatan Uziel (Hebrew: יונתן עוזיאל‬; born March 26, 1975) is an Israeli actor and model best known for appearing in Prisoners of War and Hostages.

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